There’s a time and a place for everything, from unimportant things like small talk to more delicate stuff like a personal question; you can try the former pretty much everywhere, while the latter depends more on the context you find yourself in.
Asking personal questions requires you to warm up to the other person before asking anything. You need to sense if the time is right – and then ask.
Keep in mind different people will react to a personal question differently, so you may or may not get an answer no matter how polite you are.
Do you want to know when you can ask a personal question? And, more importantly, how? We’re going to guide you through the entire process down below.
Ask personal questions correctly
The best way to ask a personal question is to set someone aside (or wait until you can talk in private) and seek permission to say what you want to say.
You can’t and shouldn’t try to ask a personal question right away – because that’s extremely rude.
Asking a personal question comes with a price of sorts, one that you may have to pay lest you want to risk being impolite. That price is not knowing the answer because there’s no right time to ask the question.
What does that mean? That it’s better not to ask a personal question if you don’t find yourself in the proper context. Unless you can ask a personal question in a private setting, it’s better not to do it.
Once you find yourself at the right place at the right time, you must ask your question in two steps.
The first step is to ask for permission
You can do so by saying:
“Excuse me, may I ask a personal question?“
“I hope you don’t mind me asking something rather personal.“
“Is it okay for me to ask a personal question?“
“Would you mind if I ask you something personal?“
Once the other person allows you to ask something personal, you can do so.
You should pay attention to non-verbal cues, such as body language, to see if whoever you’re asking something feels comfortable replying to your question.
Consider dropping the subject if you’re making someone uncomfortable
Some people prefer to be polite and allow you to ask a personal question when they’re not comfortable with such a thing – and you should try to recognize that behavior and stop immediately.
If that’s the case, you can excuse yourself and say:
“Oh, never mind. It’s not important.”
If you’re not sure, you can allow the other person to know you prefer to be polite than to cross a line and explain:
“Please, let me know if I’m being rude. I prefer not to ask if it makes you uncomfortable.”
What should you do if you make someone uncomfortable? Apologize right away. Then, change the subject. It’s a no harm, no foul situation if you don’t push forward.
When can I politely ask a personal question?
It’s important to consider where you’re at before you ask a personal question. It’s not the same to ask something at the office as it is at the bar or someone else’s house.
With that being said, when you can ask a personal question depends on where you’re.
You will soon realize the right moment for a personal question will change – because there’s no one right time set in stone.
It’s important to stress about timing; otherwise, you can find yourself confused and asking at the wrong time, which leads to being rude.
Unfortunately, only you will be able to tell when the time is right. For example, at the office, you will be able to ask a personal question when there’s not too much work and not too many people are around.
Such a thing changes all the time, even more so if the context is different as well. Proper timing is a must to be polite, so you should pay attention to it.
What to consider when you ask a personal question
Where you’re at
When it’s time to politely ask a personal question, one of the most important elements is location.
Yes, there’s a time and a place for such a thing – but there are certain places where asking a personal question will be inevitably perceived as impolite.
More often than not, you will realize you’re at the wrong place to ask a personal question because there are too many people around. When it comes to delicate matters, there’s a crowd.
Of course, that doesn’t mean personal questions are a strictly one-on-one matter. Since personal questions are, well, personal, you should attempt to ask them as privately as possible.
What’s going on
A great way to know whether you’re at the right place to ask a personal question is to pay attention to what’s going on around you.
A personal question is a delicate matter, and you don’t want to approach such a thing unless you’re in the right environment.
For example, a party isn’t the right place for a personal question, and neither is a casual gathering with plenty of people.
You should avoid asking personal questions when you’re at a place with a lot of people coming and going, a place where someone may overhear what you’re talking about.
You should avoid personal questions when the other person is busy as well.
Your relationship with the other person
You may be at the right time and the right place to ask a personal question – but you may be the wrong person to ask it.
Your relationship with someone else matters a lot when you’re about to ask a personal question.
You can’t go around approaching delicate matters with strangers (or people that you’re not too familiar with). Most people prefer to have a certain degree of privacy when it comes to their personal life.
It’s important to note that your relationship with someone else will allow you to know whether you can ask the question or not. Remember, you have to pay attention to verbal cues when you approach the subject – and you will learn to recognize said cues over time.
The question itself
There’s such a thing as too much of a personal question. You can, sometimes without knowing, cross a line by asking something.
You shouldn’t be surprised if someone poorly reacts to a personal question. By definition, something personal is both private and delicate – and you don’t know what lies behind that door (that’s why you’re asking).
So, to ask a personal question, you need to ask yourself if you’re at the right place and at the right time; then, you need to ask yourself if you’re the right person to ask it; finally, you need to consider whether your question is appropriate or not.
After you consider all four elements, then you can move forward.
Can I ask about anything if I ask politely?
Absolutely not! As we have discussed above, you can only ask certain questions under the right circumstances. More importantly, there are certain things you should never ask about.
Some questions are off-limits no matter who you are, where you are at, the time of the day, context, and other elements that could be important relating to the question itself and the situation you’re in.
Why is that? Because certain questions are downright impolite to ask. These questions vary depending on culture, customs, and other characteristics.
We can’t know which personal questions are off-limits for your particular situation. We can tell you they are often about politics, religion, and law.
When in doubt, drop the question and move on.
What should I do if someone doesn’t want to answer a personal question?
You should know that people may or may not want to answer a personal question. You may have to drop the subject or apologize after approaching a delicate matter.
Whether you need to apologize or not for asking a personal question depends on the reaction you get. You must apologize if the other person seems angry, bitter, or sad after you asked.
You don’t need to apologize if the other person is nonchalant about it but tells you he prefers not to discuss the subject at hand.
You should never try to push the subject to try and get an answer. You must drop everything and change the topic if someone else doesn’t want to answer a personal question.
Is it wrong to ask a personal question?
There’s nothing wrong with asking a personal question as long as you do it politely. Of course, certain questions are off-limits, as we have previously discussed.
Sure, certain questions are more delicate than others. And you may find yourself asking the right question at the wrong time or the wrong question at the right time.
So, yes, there are personal questions that are wrong to ask – but you can always right a wrong by being polite and apologizing.